Bringing Greater Manchester back together
Greater Manchester’s ability to operate beyond the boundaries of a single local authority has been clearly proved. The 10 metropolitan authorities together own and run a particularly successful regional airport and they have come up with a radical proposal for a peak-time congestion charge that is even more ambitious than that in central London.
So it is no surprise that the Manchester councils are using their existing sub-regional structure of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities to create a Greater Manchester multi-area agreement. Together the councils – Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan boroughs and the city councils of Manchester and Salford – have a population of 2.6 million, making it the second largest urban area in the UK. They generate about 40% of the North West’s economy and a real driving force both commercially and culturally.
But while the 10 authorities strongly believe that they must work closely together to strengthen the city-region economy further, they are also binding themselves into stronger links with government departments and the private sector, as well. At the top of list of MAA ambitions are to tackle those areas where the sub-region is weakest – the numbers of people who are without jobs, and those who have poor literacy and numeracy. To tackle these problems, the local authorities will operate closely through the MAA with the Learning and Skills Council, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Department of Work and Pensions, and others.
The MAA is strengthened by a new sub-regional governance model with an Executive Board of Leaders, backed by the Greater Manchester Business Council playing an advisory role. This approach has been backed by the regional development agency – the North West Development Agency – the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, local NHS bodies and the Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisations.
At the heart of the MAA lie what it calls its eight ‘building blocks’. These aim to tackle the weak skills base, increase economic productivity, reduce worklessness, increase the supply of homes and provide the other infrastructure needed for economic growth. This will involve the introduction of closer cross-departmental work involving government and local government, more funding flexibilities, better performance management, a more competitive market for providing welfare-to-work support, better education and skills support for 14 to 19 year olds and the development of a Greater Manchester-wide strategic highway network and highways management strategy.
Councillor Mohammad Sharif, cabinet member for regeneration on Rochdale Borough Council, says the new arrangements build on the success of those that are well established. “We find working together with other local authorities through AGMA is massively beneficial – it means that we can share intelligence as well as provide better value for money and deliver more joined-up coherent services,” he says. “We are already doing joint work on individual projects with other authorities – especially our neighbouring councils like Oldham – and it makes absolute sense for us to collaborate more closely with authorities in the sub-region to bring even more of the benefits that we’ve already experienced.
“Rochdale typifies some of the economic challenges and opportunities facing Greater Manchester as a whole so in that respect we’re able to help others get an understanding of the issues that they too may come up against. Economies don’t conform to local authority boundaries, so it’s vital that we have a far more integrated approach to ensure that Greater Manchester as a whole can expand and develop the services and opportunities that it offers to businesses.
“We’re delighted to be working closely with other local authorities in Greater Manchester on new innovative initiatives such as a pilot scheme to look at reducing the numbers of invalidity benefits claimants by getting them into employment. This is just one of many examples of where better collaboration will help to improve our efficiency and service delivery as a sub-region.”
Support from partners
Damien Bourke, the North West Development Agency’s partnership and policy manager for Greater Manchester, explains why the NWDA has endorsed the MAA. “The Agency feels that the MAA for Manchester is definitely the right way to go forward,” he says. “The principles they have put in there are pretty much spot on.”
The MAA approach builds on initiatives previously put in place, he points out, not only through AGMA, but also with NWDA having devolved some sub-regional operations – for example, in tackling worklessness. “From our perspective, dealing with all the Manchester districts as a [single] whole is going to be incredibly beneficial for us, with priorities agreed at sub-regional level – it will help us formulate our regional priorities. It will deliver a greater degree of capacity and expertise within the sub-region.”
Bourke believes that the MAA working has the potential also to lead to other areas of closer, cross-boundary engagement. For example, the member authorities could, he believes, operate more joint commissioning of services. They may also increasingly recognise the benefits of supporting economic and commercial developments beyond their council boundaries – such as all the Greater Manchester authorities seeing the BBC’s move into Salford as an opportunity for a single media and cultural industry cluster that will benefit the whole sub-region.
But, Bourke points out, there will need to be close co-operation between the group of 10 and the RDA to prevent duplication of roles, particularly in regards to attracting inward investment.
Setting the quality bar
Chris Fletcher, the deputy chief executive of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, welcomes the MAA. “The MAA sets the quality bar at quite a high level, which a sub-region needs to do, and it clarifies where the sub-region needs to get its act together – for example, on worklessness. It identifies the weaker areas that need to be addressed. That is how we will make the Greater Manchester economy stronger. Now there needs to be an engagement process so that people understand what is going on – that it is not seen as just another local government or government initiative. This is fundamentally different.”